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Recalling Omelo Mumba

Mumba was one of those who fought for a balck majority government
OMELO Mumba is a name that is relatively familiar. There is a school in Katete, a road in Lusaka and a house at Nyika Hotel in Petauke named after Omelo Mumba.
But why would he deserve all that?
You have to go back to the pre-independence politics to understand why this is so. This is true even for the people of chief Mumbi of the Nsenga people in Petauke. His grave is plain-ordinary such that a visitor to the area may not think of it that much.
Maybe, it is about time it became a national monument. It is another way of honouring him. This is so especially that when he was honoured away from a school, a road and a house, the medal he received, albeit post-humously, was for great service to the nation. It is an award usually given to civil servants. He was never one.
Oh, and at the actual site where he was killed in Katete there is a nightclub. Few drunkards would bother with the significance of the site.
Anyhow, what is the story?
Eastern Province was a stronghold of the United National Independence Party (UNIP) for a long time even after the wind of change swept the country leading to the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) forming government in 1991.
However, before independence, and prior to UNIP penetrating the region, it belonged to Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula’s African National Congress (ANC).
Phillip James Daka, an educationist and former Permanent Secretary in the office of the Prime Minister and Vice President, has an idea of how the events unfolded in that period.
Mr Daka, who is now settled at a farm 25km from Petauke Boma, close to Ukwimi road, is the author of the highly recommended essay From Northern Rhodesia to Zambia 1924 – 1964.
But make no mistake; he is non-political himself by virtue of his Baha’i faith. Still, he knows the story of the struggle.
“Omelo Mumba was originally on the Copperbelt and belonged to the ANC. He was friends with the likes of Daniel Munkombwe, and when he moved to Ndola, he came into contact with the likes of Fines Bulawayo.
“He, at one time, worked as a fuel attendant. But before politics, he was a teacher having trained at Minga. That time, a standard four could train, but later, they were phased out for better qualified ones. That’s how he found himself as a fuel attendant. I also remember that he had a limp in his walk after a motorcycle accident. He used to cycle when he went about organising the party,” Mr Daka says of Mumba, who died on March 3, 1963.
“When he was in UNIP, he was made regional secretary for Eastern Province. But the province was a stronghold of the ANC, and UNIP was just coming in, and Mumba was very forceful in trying to penetrate the province.
“At the time there was talk of an alliance between the United Federal Party and the ANC following the 1962 elections under the McLeod 15-15-15 constitution, Mumba was moving in the province, trying to neutralise the possible alliance in order to pave way for a black majority government,” he says.
“But when he was killed in Katete in 1963, the ANC had a strongman in Chipata by the name of Mark Lushinga. He was a lion, very fearless, he is the one who defused the situation in Kitwe when [Kenneth] Kaunda and Nkumbula were attacked in Kitwe by whites. After Kaunda had somehow managed to escape, it was Lushinga who came to the rescue of Nkumbula.”
It is this same Mr Lushinga and his cadres who are alleged to have attacked Mumba and other UNIP officials when they met him in Katete on party business.The Land Rover which Mumba was using is said to have been set ablaze. The UNIP cadres had to run for their lives. They ran from Katete to Petauke on foot. Information later filtered through that Mumba had been murdered.
This was inter-party fighting at its worst. Vernon Mwaanga, in his autobiography, makes reference to this. He also had a bitter rivalry with Daniel Munkombwe, who was in ANC while he was in UNIP despite being close relatives.
“The UNIP cadres were demanding musamilo [honour]. The district was tense. The UNIP cadres wanted to kill someone so that there could be musamilo. Chief Levi Mumbi, father of Jacob Mwanza [former Bank of Zambia Governor] told the cadres that if they want musamilo, they should wait for the government as he couldn’t provide that.
“At his burial, the situation was only stabilised by Grey Zulu, who was a parliamentary secretary. But he also advised that Lushinga should be transferred from the region. Much later, Lushinga was killed on the Chadiza – Chipata road by suspected UNIP cadres,” Mr Daka says.
One of those that were with Mumba when he was killed is Stephano Mumba, currently a resident in Mbalungu village in Petauke.
A youth then with a position at constituency of propaganda secretary, he somehow takes pride in their skirmishes with ANC, and to some extent the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who he says were discouraging people from buying UNIP membership cards.
“Our job was to recruit members for UNIP, and we were very aggressive. We didn’t want ANC because we thought Nkumbula was compromised, and that’s why we joined UNIP. We thought ANC had failed to deliver independence to us.
“When we joined UNIP and went flat-out to recruit members, we faced resistance from ANC and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Our regional secretary Mumba was a fearless man. In fact, to belong to UNIP in those days, you had to be fearless. Joining UNIP in those days meant being ready to face difficulties. We used to say UNIP mulilo [UNIP is fire],” Mr Mumba says.
“After they killed Mumba, we became even more militant. We used to beat ANC members and Jehovah’s Witnesses Some ANC members used to go and sleep at the grave for fear of being beaten for not buying UNIP cards.”
That is indeed how the struggle sometimes turned out to be. Nonetheless, it is a story that should be told.